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Interpretation – Meaning, Objective And Basic Principles


It is quite often seen courts and lawyers busy in unfolding the meaning of ambiguous words and expressions and resolving inconsistencies. The age-old practice of application of enacted law has led to the formulation of certain rules of interpretation or construction.

Meaning of Interpretation

Salmond– “The process by which the court seeks to determine the meaning of legislature through the medium of authoritative forms during which it’s expressed.”[1]

Cooley- “Interpretation differs from construction in that the former is the art of finding out the true sense of any form of the word; that is the sense which their author intended to convey, and enabling others to derive from them the same idea which the author intended to convey. Construction on the other hand is the drawing of conclusion; respecting subjects that lie beyond the direct expression of text from elements known from and given in the text; a conclusion which are in the spirit though not within the letter of law.”[2]

Objective of Interpretation

The main objective of interpretation is to determine the intention of the legislature which is expressed impliedly or expressly. The expression intention of the legislature is a shorthand reference to the meaning of words used by the legislature objectively determined with guidance furnished by the accepted principles of interpretation. If a statutory provision is open to more than one interpretation the Court has to choose that interpretation that represents the true intention of the legislature in other words the ‘true meaning’ or a ‘legal meaning’.

Intention of Legislature

A statute is to be construed consistent with  “to the intent of them that make it” and “judicature must influence the true intention of the legislature- the mens or sententia legis”. The expression ‘intention of the legislature is the shorthand reference to the meaning of words used by the legislature objectively determined with the guidance furnished by the accepted principles of interpretation.

Blackstone – In his word the objective of interpretation is the fairest and rational method for interpreting is a statute is by exploring the intention of the legislature through the most natural and probable signs which are “either the words, the context, the subject matter, the effects, and consequences or the spirit and reason of law”

Difficulties arise due to various reasons-

  1. Words in any language are not logical images having any exact or unmistakable significance and language is nevertheless a blemished medium to pass on one’s idea, substantially less of a huge gathering comprising of people of different shades of assessment.
  2. Language is in this manner prone to be misjudged. In conventional discussion or correspondence, it is by and large open for gatherings to acquire explanation if the referent is incompletely conveyed.

While dealing with section 7 and 8 of the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, 1908 which limits the succession of lands held by tenants of scheduled tribes to male descendants should be construed to include female descendants and the provision of Hindu Succession Act 1956, and the Indian Succession Act, 1925 should be extended judicially to apply to scheduled tribes to ameliorate the conditions of Female. But this Ultra activist view was not accepted by the majority who advised self-restraint and a cautious approach in making Judge made amendments though it may appear to be conservative.

The court can’t decipher the rule in the manner in which they had built up the custom-based law “which in a constitutional sense implies judicially created value”. In abrogating or modifying the rule of the common law the courts exercise the same power of creation that builds up the connection of common law through its exercise by the judges of the past. The courts can exercise no such power in respect of the statute. Therefore, in their task of interpreting and applying a statute Judges have to be conscious that in the end, the statute is the master and not the servant of the judgment and that no judge has a choice between implementing the law and disobeying it.

The rules of interpretation are not the rule of law and are not to be applied like the rules enacted by the legislature in the interpretation act. They serve as a guide and such of them which serve no useful purpose now can be rejected by the courts and new rules can be evolved in their places.[3]

Basic Principles of Interpretation

  1. Literal Rule of interpretation
  2. Mischief Rule of Interpretation
  3. Rule of Reasonable Construction or Ut Res Magis Valent Quam Parent
  4. Rule of Harmonious Construction
  5. The golden rule of Interpretation

1. Literal Rule

The most important step throughout interpretation is to analyze the language and the exacting significance of the resolution. The words in an institution have their normal impact and the development of a demonstration relies upon its phrasing. There ought to be no augmentations or replacement of words in the development of rules and their interpretation. The essential principle of interpretation is to decipher words as they are. It ought to be taken into note that the standard can be applied just when the implications of the words are clear for example words ought to be basic so the language is plain and just one sign can be determined out of the resolution.

CaseState of Kerala v. Mathai Verghese and others,[4] in this case, a person was caught along with the counterfeit currency “dollars” and he was charged under section 120B,498A, 498C, and 420 read with segment 511 and 34 of Indian Penal Code for having fake cash. The blamed battled under the watchful eye of the court that a charge under segment 498A and 498B of the Indian Penal Code must be imposed on account of falsifying Indian money notes and not in the situation of duplicating unfamiliar cash notes. The court held that the word money notes or monetary order can’t be prefixed. The individual was held obligated to be charge-sheeted.

2. Mischief rule

Mischief Rule was originated in Heydon’s case in 1584. It is the rule of purposive construction as in this the purpose of the statute is most important. It is referred to as Heydon’s rule because it had been given by Lord Poke in Heydon’s case in 1584. It is called as mischief rule because the main target is on curing the mischief.

In Heydon’s case, it was held that four things have to be followed for true and sure interpretation of all the statutes in general, which are as follows-

  1. What was the common law before the making of an act?
  2. What was the mischief for which the present statute was enacted?
  3. What remedy did the Parliament sought or had resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the commonwealth?
  4. The true reason for the remedy.

The purpose of this Mischief rule is to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.

Case-Smith v. Huges, 1960 WLR 830, in this case, the prostitutes were soliciting in the streets of London and it was creating a huge problem in London and this was causing a great problem in maintaining law and order so to prevent this problem, Street Offences Act, 1959 was enacted. After the enactment of this act, the prostitutes started soliciting from windows and balconies and the prostitutes who were carrying on to solicit from the streets and balconies were charged under section 1(1) of the said Act. But the prostitutes pleaded that they weren’t solicited from the streets. The court held that although they were not soliciting from the streets yet the mischief rule will be applied to prevent the soliciting by prostitutes and shall look into this issue. By applying this rule, the court held that the windows and balconies were taken to be an extension of the word street, and the charge sheet was held to be correct.[5]

3. Rule of Reasonable Construction or Ut Res Magis Valent Quam Parent

This is a Latin maxim that means a thing should affect than being made void. It is a rule of construction which means the construction of a rule should give effect to the rule rather than destroying it, i.e., when there are two constructions possible in a provision such that one gives effect to the provision and the other renders the provision inoperative, the former which gives effect to the provision is adopted and the latter is discarded.

Case- K.P. Varghese v. ITO[1981] The court should as far as possible avoid that construction that attributes irrationality to the Legislature and prefers a construction that renders the statutory provision constitutionally valid rather than the one which makes it void.

4. Rule of Harmonious construction

When two or more provisions of the same statute are repugnant to each other, then in such a situation the court, if possible, by maintaining harmony between the two will try to construe the provisions in such a manner as to give effect to both the provisions. The inquiry that the two arrangements of a similar rule are covering or fundamentally unrelated might be hard to decide. The legislating body explains its expectation through the words utilized in the arrangement of the resolution. In this way, here the fundamental standard of agreeable development is that the governing body couldn’t have attempted to negate itself. In the instances of understanding of the Constitution, the rule of harmonious construction is applied ordinarily.

Case- Ishwari Khaitan Sugar Mills v. State of Uttar Pradesh, Here, State Government proposed to acquire sugar industries under U.P Sugar Undertakings (Acquisition) Act, 1971. This was challenged on the ground that these sugar industries were declared to be a controlled one by the union under the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, and the state did not have the power of acquisition or requisition of property which was under the control of the union. The SC held that the power of acquisition was not occupied by the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act, 1951, and the state had a separate power under Entry 42 List III.

5. The golden rule of Interpretation

It is known as the golden rule because it solves all the problems of interpretation. The rule says that to start with we shall go by the literal rule, however, if the interpretation given through the literal rule leads to some or any kind of ambiguity, injustice, inconvenience, hardship, inequity, then altogether such events the literal meaning shall be discarded and interpretation shall be wiped out such a fashion that the aim of the legislation is fulfilled.

Case- Tirath Singh v. Bachittar Singh,[6] In this case, there was an issue about issuing of the notice under section 99 of Representation of People’s Act, 1951, concerning corrupt practices involved within the election. According to the rule, the notice shall be issued to all or any those persons who are a party to the election petition and at a similar time to people who are not a party to it. Petitioner contended that no such notice was issued to him under the said provision. The notices were only issued to those that were non-parties to the election petition.[7]

[1] Jurisprudence, 11th ed., p. 152.

[2] constitutional limitation, vol. 1, p. 97

[3] J. G. Singh, Principles of Statutory Interpretation, 12 ed.

[4] 1987 AIR 33 SCR(1) 317

[5] “Interpretation of Statutes and its Rules,” [Online]. Available:

[6] AIR 1955 SC 850

[7] “Brief regarding rules of interpretation of statutes,” [Online]. Available:

This Article is Authored by Archita Sharma, 3rd Year BA.LLB Student at PSIT College of Law, Kanpur.

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